COMMENTS: Hard Times Round-up

America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest organization of food banks, issued a report on increasing hunger in the United States. NBC's Lisa Myers told us that there has been a 15% to 20% increase in the number of Americans in line for food handouts in the last year. She used the confusing terminology that thousands of the hungry belong to the "middle class." It would seem that, by definition, membership in the middle class requires enough income to feed oneself. The word for those without enough to eat is "poor."

CBS' Cynthia Bowers summarized the problems afflicting Ford Motors, which is about to lay off 2,000 more salaried workers and extend the summer period for idle plants by three weeks. Sales of pick-up trucks and SUVs have stalled; profit margins on economy sized cars are minute by comparison; the price of raw materials such as steel has suddenly jumped; the size of the overall national market for new vehicles has shrunk from 17m annually to 15m. "For automakers, small sales and small cars add up to big headaches."

NBC had Tom Costello continue his Running on Empty series on the ripple effect of high oil prices from Iowa. Corn farmers have to pay more for diesel and fertilizer. Trucking fleets such as Heartland Express face a 35% cut in profits despite "buying fuel in bulk, cutting idle time and empty truck runs, adding a fuel surcharge." And independent truckers make ends meet by--horror of horrors--"driving under the speed limit."

Seth Doane also looked at the impact of the high price of diesel on the trucking industry in CBS' Hitting Home series. He filed a profile Romano & Son Trucking of Phoenix that financially failed to add up. Angelo Romano claimed his firm is a "multimillion dollar business" yet his remedy for keeping his fleet of a dozen trucks on the road consists of 360-mile six-hour round trips to Nogales to fill a pick-up truck with the equivalent of $400 worth of Mexican diesel at the peso equivalent of $2 per gallon. Romano complained about the hassle of border questions, paperwork and customs duties but Doane did not explain how just 200 gallons of cut price diesel can keep an entire fleet of Romano trucks in operation.


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